Inventories, Warrants, Gifts and Day Books: the underpinnings of Queen Elizabeth’s wardrobe

I have just begun my two week photography blitz at the National Archives.

There’s a lot there to photograph. My goal? To obtain photographic copies of all records relating to Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe that I don’t already have copies of, and to eventually transcribe them all and add them to Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Uploaded database.

The National Archives has changed dramatically in the 12 years since I’ve been there. Their document ordering system has evolved from slips of paper to the swipe of a card and a few clicks on a keyboard. And they now have photography stands available, which allowed me to tear through 1,563 photographs in seven hours! (My back doesn’t thank me, but I’m sure that posterity will.)

There are a lot of documents out there–a huge amount–and a lot of them are pretty obscure. So this is a post about that information: the inventories, warrants, day books and other surviving pieces of documentary evidence left by the blessedly bureaucratic clerks of Elizabethan England. What they are, what they contain, and how you can find them.

Wardrobe Inventories

Anyone who’s reached a certain point in their research of 16th century dress has acquired a copy of Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d, by Janet Arnold. As well as being a masterpiece of scholarship, It contains the combined transcription of three inventories of Queen Elizabeth’s wardrobe taken at (or a few years after) the time of her death.

inventorystowe The Stowe Inventory at the British Library (and the copy of it held at the National Archives, LR 2/121) and the smaller companion inventory kept at the Folger are one of the best known sources of information to modern costumers; largely because Arnold’s book is centered around it, drawing material for much of what she tells us about Queen Elizabeth’s Dress. And it is a staggering tribute to sartorial genius: 99 mantles, 67 french and round gowns, a hundred loose gowns, and kirtles, petticoats, farthingales, safeguards and cloaks by the gross. All of it described in loving detail that fires the imagination:

Item one rounde gowne of cloth of siluer wrought with purple and yellowe silke laide aboute and downerighte with a brode passamaine lace of venice golde and siluer with buttons and loupes of like golde siluer pipes and small seede pearle.

Although these inventories are wonderful for providing a look under the skirts of the Queen’s wardrobe at a particular point in time and have provided an invaluable amount of documentary evidence,their snapshot nature prevents them from illuminating other aspects of the Queen’s wardrobe. Such as: how did it change? How did her color and style preferences shift over the years? How was everything made? How much of what materials were used? What percentage of her wardrobe was made new, vs. altered from older garments? To answer these questions, we turn to:

Wardrobe Warrants

The warrants are the workhorse of Elizabeth’s wardrobe records. They are full of information about countless aspects of Elizabethan court life and dress. To understand them, though, we first need to know a bit about how the whole paper trail of Elizabeth’s Royal Household worked.

Because the materials and fabrics used by the wardrobe were so expensive–a velvet gown, in the 16th century, was the equivalent of a wearable ferrari–everything had to be kept track of.  Whenever a garment was made or altered for the queen, the wardrobe clerk added a record to the ongoing record book describing the garment, what was done to it, and how much fabric of what kind was used, at what cost. When supplies were bought from drapers, clothiers and haberdashers, this too was noted: exactly how much of what kind of trim was purchased, and how much it cost. Even the linen used to make laundry bags made it into this comprehensive list. Any carpentry work or ironwork done on the coffers and chests that held the wardrobe’s clothing, the work needed to carry clothes back and forth from the wardrobe to the castle–all of this was carefully noted in the records of the Wardrobe of Robes. The clothing and shoes dispersed to poor women on Maundy was also listed.

And that’s not all. There was also the Wardrobe of Beds, which kept track of cloth and supplies used to make furniture, curtains, beddings, and other household textile goods. Stable warrants recorded every bit of leather, fabric and metal used to make caparisons and tack for the hundreds of royal horses: both working horses, like those used to carry supplies on progress, as well as the coursers and steeds for ladies and gentlewomen.

Any clothing made for the queen’s servants were also described and the amount and type of cloth used carefully noted: livery for yeomen, coachmen, littermen, footmen, gentlemen of the privy chamber, gentlewomen of the bedchamber–all received payment in part with cloth or clothing, and all of them ended up in the records. Many of these boilerplate warrants were called “warrant dormants”, which were written up and filled in with names and particulars when they were put to use. Give to _______ ___ yards of black satin for livery.”

The queen’s heralds and pursuivants were also dispensed clothing and cloth from the royal wardrobe store. And any time a lord was made a member of the order of the Garter, a set of garter robes was made up for him–all recorded in dutifully loving detail in the wardrobe clerk’s notes. Linen for the chapel alter and the choirboy’s robes? Hangings for the parliament chamber? These too were written up. Even clothing made for prisoners in the Tower of London, and clothing and furnishings made for visits by foreign royalty, make an appearance in the warrants.

And then there’s the one-offs. If a courtier or some other people was given a gift of a gown, or cloth for a gown, by the queen, a warrant would be written up and signed by her or one of her functionaries, to be delivered to the wardrobe staff. These warrants were also frequently transcribed into the clerk’s book; though sometimes they weren’t.

Let’s not forget the Revels Warrants for the plays and theatrical performances put on by the court. Although Elizabeth perferred plays, there were still tailors and artificers tasked with building the sets and costumes for various productions put on during the holidays, and their expenses, like those of the Wardrobe of Robes and Beds and the Stable, were catalogued in detail.
Needless to say, the 500+ large pages of paper ordered by the wardrobe every six months (with their purchase noted in the records) did not go to waste.

So: Wardrobe of Robes warrants. Maundy warrants. Livery warrants. Warrants Dormant. Stable Warrants. Revels Warrants. Warrants for the Order of the Garter. Warrants for Heralds dress. Warderobe of Beds warrants. Warrants for the chapel and parliament chamber. Still with me?

latinwarrantIf you are, and if you want a look at some of these toothsome documents, you’re in luck. Every year, the working copies kept by the various wardrobe clerks for all of these departments were carefully transcribed into a bound book, in full detail; all of the information described above was included. (Aside from the Revels warrants.) The copies were signed by the clerk or assigns, and these books, due to a wonderful stroke of fortune, are available to us today at the National Archives. They are LC 9/53, the warrant for 1558-1559, through LC 9/95, for the last year of Elizabeth’s reign.

The catch? They’re in Latin. All of them. So if you do want to find out exactly how much material was used for a petticoat in 1570, or who the ladies of the bedchamber were and how much fabric they received, you’re going to have to reach for that Latin Dictionary.

englishwarrantBut don’t lose hope! these yearly compilations were themselves condensed and transcribed into english, and these documents, too, are at the National Archives.  LC 5/32 holds the qcollected warrants for Queen Elizabeth’s reign up to 1560; LC 5/33 has 1560-1567, LC 5/34 1567-1575, LC 5/35 is 1575-1585, LC 5/36 is 1585-1593, and LC 5/37 is 1593 through the end of the reign.
Although the sense remains, the detail of the english warrants doesn’t match that of the Latin warrants. The English transcription also discards some of the livery information, such as the fabric given to the gentlemen of the privy chamber and the gentlewomen of the bedchamber.
For example, a Latin Warrant of 1568, in LC 9/60, has the following:

To Walter Fish for making a gown of the french fashion of murrey tissue welted with murrey velvet…the edges edged with fringe lace of gold and silver of our store, lined with crimson sarcenet with bayes in the pleats, with vents of fustian and frieze in the ruffs of our great warderobe. 40 shillings. For 8 yards of crimson sarcenet for lining the same at 6 shillings the yard. For 2 yards of baies for lining the pleats at 4 shillings the yard For a yard of fustian for the vents 16 pence  for  7 yards of frieze for lining the ruffs 12 pence

While the English transcription from LC 5/34 reads:

To Walter Fyshe our Tayler for makinge of a Frenche gowne of murrey Tissue welted with murrey veluet of our store…laied on the edges with Frindge lace of gold and siluer lyned with Crimsen Sarcenet and baies in the plaites with ventes of Fustian and frize in the ruffs of our great warderobe.

And these English transcriptions of the Latin transcription? The 1568-1585 warrants from the LC series were themselves transcribed into a larger volume, now called MS Egerton 2806. This book, combined with the Stowe Inventory, forms the backbone of Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d, and together are the source for the great majority of the primary evidence contained in the book. This is browseable online as well.

New Years Gifts

giftrollNot everything the queen wore was made by her artificers. The traditional New Years’ Gift Exchange was also an avenue into the wardrobe. Usually courtiers gave the Queen gold coins in a decorated pouch, but some gave her items of clothing: smocks, partlets, sleeves, handkerchiefs, scarves, petticoats, foreparts. Most of the gifts were smaller items of clothing, suited to being highly decorated but not requiring a real fit. Some of these garments were accepted and worn; others were accepted and kept for years without seeing any use, until they were listed in the posthumous inventory of Elizabeth’s wardrobe as

“Item one foreparte of white Satten embrodered allover with venice gold syluer and Carnacion silke in squares and flowers Chevernewise unmade.”

We don’t have a full record of all the New Year’s gifts received by the queen. The records, one roll per year, are now scattered about the globe; A couple at the National Archives, one at the Folger Library, and one even turned up in the Dallas Public Library. Some of them have been made available online. And thanks to the Herculean research and saintly persistence of Jane Lawson, the information from all known Gift Rolls–26 of them–are gathered together in her recently published book,The Elizabethan New Year’s Gift Exchanges, 1559-1603

The Day Book

daybookAnother record exists of what went on in the wardrobe: specifically, how items left the wardrobe. a single existing Day Book remains from the wardrobe of robes, containing detailed records of all gowns and cloth given out of the wardrobe (usually to one of Elizabeth’s Gentlewomen of the Privy Chamber or Maids of Honor) as well as a listing of each and every item found missing from one of her garments. Given the number of pearls, spangles and jewels loaded on gowns like her “frenche gowne of riche golde tissue with a border of purple satten allouer enbrodered with…pearle lined with purple Taphata”, these entries were frequent: buttons, pearls, jewels, hairpins, aglets, all of them accidental largesse distributed by the queen during her daily round. This document is also in the National Archives, listed as C 115/91, and published by Janet Arnold as Lost from her Majestie’s Back.

Miscellaneous Warrants

miscwarrantThese are found everywhere, in a variety of manuscripts. A good number are collected at the British Library in MS Add 5751a: Individual, one-page warrants directing the queen’s tailor to make gowns for her Maids of Honor, or a night gown for her favorite, the Earl of Leicester, or to make six petticoats of various rich crimson fabrics. The content of some of these individual warrants may show up in abbreviated form in one of the Latin or English compiled wardrobe accounts; or they may not.


And finally, there is correspondence. Nuggets of information on Elizabeth’s wardrobe can be found here, though truly interesting information is rare. The well known letter from the young Elizabeth’s nurse to the King begs him to give her charge money for apparal,

for she hath neither gown, not kirtle nor sleeves, nor railes, nor body stitchets, nor handkerchiefs, nor mufflers nor biggins.

In 1577, Sir Amias Paulet sent Walsingham a letter mentioning that he

Sends a farthingale such as now used by the French Queen and the Queen of Navarre

…most likely a french farthingale, which first makes its appearance in the Queen’s wardrobe accounts three years later.

There are always more bits of information showing up here and there…but the above sources are the main ones available for serious students of dress. My goal to provide complete coverage of Elizabeth’s wardrobe throughout her reign is progressing; some of the inventories from the end of her reign are available, as are copies of the warrants from 1568-1593. I’m currently working on finishing a transcription of the 1593-1603 warrants, and will then turn to the beginning of her reign and transcribe the warrants from 1558-1568.

And then? Get a copy of the full Stowe Inventory and the Day book transcribed, as well as all of the wardrobe records relating to the Queen’s coronation; and then, perhaps, I’ll start on some of the Latin accounts.

All of which will be in my camera by the time I leave England…


Queen Elizabeth in Cyberspace

As you may or may not know, I am–by day–a mild mannered computer programmer, whose job is to devise ways for billions of records to be processed, sorted, analyzed, linked and visualized using the latest and greatest supercomputing technology.

A far cry from Historic Dress, one might be tempted to think. But I’ve found ways to merge my two interests: the Elizabethan Corset Pattern Generator was one of the earlier ones, and my forays into Synonym and Sounds-like searching of historic texts is another.

My most recent all-consuming synthesis of costume and computing is my Wardrobe Concordance. This is a cunning master plan which, at its current rate, should see completion somewhere around 2030.

Cunning Plan Step the first: Here, take this shovel.

Find, Transcribe (or get transcriptions by others) of all the original manuscripts describing Elizabeth I’s wardrobe, and load them into Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Uploaded. Enter in new synonyms for words (like “verdingall” for farthingale, “crammoisy” for crimson, etc) into the glossary as I come across them, so that odd or unusual words are highlighted with their definition available if one hovers over the word.

This step is coming along; I’ve gotten, I would say, about half of Elizabeth’s wardrobe accounts entered so far. As well as a couple of her inventories and a handful of Gift Rolls. There’s about 6,000 individual entries so far. I’m  halfway through the corpus; I still have to transcribe, upload and glossarize the 1593-1600 wardrobe warrants, a good copy of the Stowe Inventory, and the wardrobe warrants from 1558-1568 (which are in Latin. That’s going to be fun to learn).

It’s difficult, though; I come across so many other interesting texts and ideas for research that I’m continually distracted from my goal. I have, however, acquired a minion who also enjoys transcribing wardrobe warrants. Little did she know how addictive it would be! Which helps bring my goal a bit closer.

Cunning Plan Step the Second: Open the Wardrobe Doors, Hal.

Find a way to extract information from each entry so that they can be usefully analyzed.earched, analyzed, linked and visualized. What this means is taking an entry like:

Item to the said William Jones for makinge of a highe bodied gowne of greene veluet (for Thomasine our woman dwarf) laied with Siluer Lace the sleuis cut in panes the bodies styffened with canvas and buckeram and laied aboute with buckeram bordered with fustian and pocketts of fustian the bodies faced with Satten cut and lyned with sarcenet the playtes Lyned and a role of cotton with a paire of sleuis of Satten, cut and Lyned with Sarcenet

And turning it into the following:

Action: making. Garment: High bodied gown. Material: velvet. Color: green. Made by: William Jones. Made for: Thomasine de Paris. Date:1588. Lining: sarcenet. Facing: satin. Stiffening: canvas, buckram. Decoration: Silver lace. Garment sections: Sleeves, material satin, lining sarcenet, cut in panes. Bodice: stiffened with canvas,buckram. Roll, made of cotton.

This process is going to require several steps. First: standardizing spellings and terms across the corpus. This is fairly easy, using the glossary I’ve put together already. In fact, I’ve already done this.

The next step: parsing the text. Identifying words as garments, materials, colors, etc.; and, once that’s done, finding a way to figure out what is related to what. (lining material sarcenet, facing satin, sleeves are made of satin, etc.)

If I was rich, I would do what the EEBO did and farm the 10,000 entries like the above out to an offshore transcription company to crunch through.  But I’m not rich. I am something even better: a programmer.

A programmer who was graced by extraordinary serendipity in the past few weeks. At work, I was tasked with learning about Natural Language Processing, and figure out how to integrate it into our supercomputer platform so that we could run it against thousands of free texts simultaneously. This increased my knowledge base about how the heck one would parse this wardrobe data by a factor of ten in the first week alone, and brought me a lot closer to figuring out how it would have to be done.

And at the Folger Library last week, when I popped in to their 4 pm tea and chatted about this project with some of the people there, I was tipped off about two software programs: Morphadorner and Vard. Both of them were built to parse, standardize spelling, and extract meaning and entities from early english texts. I smacked myself on the head for forgetting the cardinal rule of problem-solving: the answer you seek is always available somewhere on the internet.

Cunning Plan Step the Third:  That’s not a moon, that’s a space station

I want to be able to link together all the records for a given gown.  This will  answer so many questions. How many gowns and garments did Elizabeth truly have, and in what proportions by type?  What sorts of alterations were most frequently done? How often were gowns altered? Were certain garments altered more frequently or mentioned more often, and could this be used to identify her preferences in clothing: favorite colors, styles, etc? Were there certain spans of time where a particular type of alteration was far more frequently seen than other times–like c. 1590, where “lengthening and widening” of skirts starts showing up with remarkable frequency, echoing the change in fashionable silhouette?

I could do this by hand, by starting at the beginning of the corpus, searching the database for all garments with similar descriptions, and eyeballing them to see if they really are the same gown, or different. Here’s an example of one such pattern found:

1572: Item for making of a french Gowne of russett and white damaske garded with carnacion taphata layed with bone lase of golde and silver the bodies and slevis garded very thicke lyned with carnacion and white taphata the Gowne borderid with carnacion taphata with a rolle of white cotten & rolls in the slevis coverid with white fustian all of our greate Guarderobe.

1574: Item for alteringe the bodies of a Gowne of russett and white damaske with a garde of carnacion taphata with a bone lase of venice golde and silver upon it of our greate Guarderobe.

1579: for lyninge of a gowne of russett and white damaske lyned with blak unshorne vellat in the forequarters with a newe steye of sarceonett

But this approach has problems, and not only the cripplingly huge amount of sorting and comparison that would need to be done. the 1572 and 1574 records are clearly the same…but is the 1579 record? It mentions black unshorn velvet. Is there another record for, say, a french gown of orange and white damask lined with black unshorn velvet, that would be a closer match?

Fortunately, performing automated fuzzy linking like this is exactly what I do at work. My employer takes 360 billion public records and links them together using some extremely iterative, arcane and impressive fuzzy matching and statistical algorithms. Once I have all the data parsed out into separate fields for material, color, gown type, etc., I’ll be able to run it through some matching algorithms that will link it all up as nice as you please, providing confidence scores about the certainty of the match into the bargain.

The other thing I want to do is to be able to take the parsed data and build a visualization front end for ad-hoc quering and charting of data.

In English, that means creating a webpage where someone can say, “give me a line chart of the number of spanish farthingales made and altered between 1558 and 1602, grouped by year.” And then they can add another line to the chart for the number of half farthingales made and altered, and another line for the number of rolls made and altered, and voila: the transition from Spanish to French farthingales over the course of Elizabeth’s reign is laid out as neat as you please.  What would have taken hours and days of poking through records is shown in 5 minutes.

Once I have this, I can answer idle questions like “I wonder how Elizabeth’s color preferences changed over her lifetime” or “were her garment linings switched out between fur and lighter fabrics based on time of year?” with a few clicks of a button. Spotting trends in different types of garments, different sorts of decoration, and different materials become trivial.

And then I can turn my attention to all of the other topics of research that have been queuing up…


Book Review: The Inventory of Henry VIII: Clothing and Textiles

The high point of this Christmas was the appearance of  The Inventory of Henry VIII: Textiles and Clothing under the tree. My husband had ordered it years and years ago for a gift, and it had been delayed and delayed again until both of us had completely forgotten about it.

The book itself costs an arm, leg and kidney. If I’d had to buy it for myself before Christmas, I’d have refrained. But now, having read through it, I have to say that it’s worth every penny I didn’t have to pay for it; and if I hadn’t got it for Christmas, I’d be saving up for a copy even now.

So, in the spirit of enablement, I’m passing on the details of just what’s in this book to all y’all, so you have an idea of whether or not you need to buy it.  I initially intended to make it a facebook post to my historic costume list. two typed pages later, I had to reconsider; each one of the articles in the book deserves its own review.

The book is a series of essays, each one based upon the information on a particular topic to be found in the various inventories of Henry VIII, each written by a person at the top of their game in that particular field. The first is on King Henry’s Tapestry collection, written by Thomas Campbell. Then comes the section on the clothing of King Henry, and his hunting equipment, by Maria Hayward.  She also writes the following section, on the textiles, tents, flags and costumes that were in the care of the Office of Tents and Revels.

This is followed by an article on table carpets and coverings for tables, seats and floors by the esteemed late Donald King, “The Art of the Broiderers” by Santina Levey, and a section on table and bed linens by David Mitchell. Then comes an article focusing on the textiles in Henry’s Store, by Lisa Monnas, another essay by her on the ecclesiastical textiles and costume in the inventory, and finally, an article on Furs in Henry’s wardrobe by Elspeth Veale.

A solid block of knowledge, indeed! 365 pages of brand new research on Tudor textiles and costume and I was determined to go through every page, even the sections I didn’t really expect to enjoy, like the articles on tapestries, carpets, table linens and ecclesiastical textiles. Even if they were dry, or ancillary to my interests, they were bound to be extremely informative and I was duty-bound to read them.

I had forgotten something, however. When a person is truly and whole-heartedly obsessed with a particular subject, and when they can write well, their love of it becomes infectious. They pass on the contagion of their passion via the written word, captivating the unsuspecting reader and carrying them along into unexpected areas of research.


The Folger Files

I spent Friday in that particular circle of academic heaven known as the Folger Library in Washington, DC.

photoThe Folger Library is beautiful and absolutely uplifting to walk through. It smells divinely of dust and old paper and leather. The Folger’s reading room is full of Tudor woodwork and Tudor manuscripts and their basement holds  an enticing array of microfilms from the British Library.

The Folger is also rather exclusive–unlike the plebeian British Library, British Museum and National Archives of England, which require a mere driver’s license and a couple of forms signed before allowing any Tom, Dick or Harry to handle as many 12th-century charters as they wish, the Folger insists upon a letter of intent describing precisely what the person wants to view, plus two references from professional academics (sent from an institutional address) before allowing non-academic-affiliated researchers to view items in their collection.

This exclusivity bemused me the first time I encountered it. But I suppose it’s understandable; one can’t be too careful when it comes to those independent researchers. Turn your back on them for two minutes, and they start folding Queen Elizabeth’s letters into paper airplanes and running naked with them through the stacks.

But! I can definitely tell you that their collection is worth the hoops that one must jump through to get access to it.

I initially went to follow up on a lead of possible tailor’s bills in the Stiffkey Estate Papers collection. A dead end, alas. However, I did get to see and photograph my own copy of the 1600 Inventory of Elizabeth’s wardrobe of robes. The ink was a faded brown, hard to read in many cases, but oh, the mouthwatering descriptions of petticoats, kirtles and cloaks! I can’t wait to transcribe them all and start linking them to entries in the wardrobe accounts in DressDB

I also got a look at Freyle’s 1588 tailor’s book.  Unlike Alcega, Freyle includes several patterns for breeches laid out alongside doublets, jerkins, sayas and ropillas. I’m looking forward to making a pair up to see how they look in wool and silk.

He also had a layout for a farthingale that was slightly different than Alcega’s, though the pieces looked to be about the same when laid out, and some patterns for women’s sayas that had high necked doublet bodices with a distinct fish in the front seam under the bust. All in all, a fascinating find!

After these two highlights, the rest of the day passed fairly quickly in inventory-fishing. I’d requested a large number of inventories and household accounts in the hopes that some of them would include apparel in the inventories. I struck out with most of them; they included napery, drapery, bedding and household textiles, but no apparell. One item of interest was the prevalence of red-and-green fringe in the decoration of furniture and bedding; it brought to mind the remarkable amount of red and green fringe sold by the haberdasher William Wray. Red and green, much more than red fringe, green fringe or black fringe, was a popular item in his inventory.

There were only two docs that repaid my investigation. The first  were the Inventories of Elizabeth Berkeley, a set of three wardrobe inventories of her wardrobe taken in 1605, 1611 and 1617. I’d transcribed them in haste the last time I’d been here, and hadn’t had the wherewithall to photograph them. The three inventories themselves are intriguing; not only do they illustrate the evolution and change in a woman’s wardrobe over time (more waistcoats and jackets as the years went on, no farthingales bought but the three she had retained for 20 years, night gowns referred to as loose gowns in some inventories, and other interesting linguistic wardrobe hints, but the garments themselves reveal much about a woman’s wardrobe of the early 17th century. Striped canvas bodies, for one.

The second were the household inventories of the Townshend Family. Almost all of the inventories focused on household furnishings, but there was an inventory of my “Lord’s Apparel” and my “Ladies Apparel” which will be interesting to transcribe.

Other than that, it was merely the odd mention of a shirt, or ‘His wearing apparell, 4 pounds.’

Except for one curious entry in the Inventory of the goods of George Cope taken at the time of his death (1572). It was a long inventory, with only a few lines devoted to his clothing. But take a look at the last line:

Item in the same chest, ii gownes of cloth thone garded with velvet thother with black silke buttons     vis viiid
Item ii Clookes vis viiid
Item a rede taffitye dublet xs
Item a doublet of rewed canvas iiis iiiid
Item iiii letherne Jerkins xiiis iiiid
Item iiii payre of hose xxs
Item ix shertes wherof iiii whyte sherts ii blacke a blewe one edged with golde & one with silver xis

If I’m reading that right, George had two black shirts and a blue one as well. Something I’d never see before in inventory entries.

After finishing with the various inventories, I went downstairs to try my luck in the microfilm room. I had two references to Harleian manuscripts from the British Library that I hoped to get a look at: One was the Probate Inventory of Leicester, and one was a wardrobe account. Unfortunately, all I had were the manuscript numbers and folios, and the 126 rolls of microfilmed Harleian manuscripts were organized by manuscript volume. I didn’t have the means to find out what manuscripts were in which volume just then, so instead I picked a roll of Lansdowne manuscripts at random, sat down and started scrolling through.

Talk about luck! I happened upon the 1559 household inventory of Thomas Cawarden, King Henry VIII’s Master of Revels. It was fairly disorganized, hats and crossbows and furniture and kitchen supplies following eachother higgledy-piggledy, but a couple of entries caught my eye while I was photographing: A reference to a farthingale of satin de bruges, for one. I look forward to transcribing this one, definitely.

I’m going  back tomorrow to try my luck in their card catalog and see what I can find amongst the catalog that hasn’t yet made it into their online catalog, Hamnet. I’m told there’s a considerable number of interesting items from the continent hiding in there.

And here, to make you all terribly jealous, is a Short panorama of the glory which is the Folger Library Reading room.

A Tailor’s Wage

Tailor from the Nürnberger Zwölfbrüderstiftung manuscript, c. 1601

Tailor from the Nürnberger Zwölfbrüderstiftung manuscript, c. 1601

If I was a tailor in 16th century London, how many days’ or weeks’ worth of pay would three yards of kersey cost me?

It’s a difficult question to answer. For one thing, professional tailors usually received payment on a per-item basis, rather than receiving a “salary” or “wage” as we know it. For another, the sources I’ve found are usually specific to a particular time and place, and wages varied widely over the 16th and early 17th century.

I will be throwing shillings and pence about with abandon as I continue, so a quick refresher on English money in the 16th century: 12 pence equaled 1 shilling, and 20 shillings equaled £1.

One place where tailors were employed by the day, rather than by the piece, and employed for a number of years, was in the Royal Office of the Revels. A legion of tailors, painters, carpenters, leatherworkers and other artificers were needed to create the dazzling costumes and sets of revels and masques put on by Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth. Although the number of revels staged decreased during Elizabeth’s reign, due to her preference for theatrical performance over the elaborate allegorical revels and masques preferred by her predecessors, tailors’ wages continued to be recorded through the end of the 1580s.

Feuillerat’s Documents Relating to the Office of the Revels in the time of Edward and Mary and Documents Relating to the Office of the Revels in the Time of Elizabeth, aka “The Loseley Mansuscripts”, describe a great deal about the revels and the clothing made for their participants. They also describe the tailor’s wages paid for the work. (1)


A fairy costume for a masque. Designed by Inigo Jones, 1611. Although this costume dates to several decades later than the revels of the 1560s and 70s, it was similar in style to those of earlier decades.

In 1548, 32 tailors were hired to work on costumes and stage properties for King Edward’s Shrovetide revels. The foreman was John Holt, yeoman; he received 9 pence a day for his pay. The other tailors all received 8 pence a day. They worked anywhere from 3 days and 2 nights to eight days and two nights, receiving an additional 8 pence for each night worked, as well as 8 pence for each day. One can imagine the frenetic activity of all of these men working late into the night, struggling to thread needles by candlelight, all to make the Shrovetide deadline.

In addition, as an officer, foreman John Holt was allowed “dieting charges” of two shillings a day. The other officers–master of the revels Sir Thomas Vaverden, the Clark comptroller John Bernard and the clerk, Thomas Phillips–were the only others who received this extra pay.

John Holt was also recompensed for charges out of his own pocket during the work. He hired a wagon and a barge on Shrovetide from Blakfriers to Greenwich to carry all of the masks and clothing to the location of the revels, and hired the same on Ash Wednesday to carry them back to Blackfriars. He also paid for 48 candles and candlesticks for them, needed for working by night, as well as for pack needles and thread. In all he laid out 28 shillings of his own money–a significant amount.

For the following Christmas revels of 1548, however, John Holt received only 8 pence a day–the same as the rest of the tailors. He still received his additional 2 shillings a day, and, as before, presented a bill for money he had laid out red and white wool, carriage of revels stuff to the site where the performance was held and back again, and for a considerable amount of thread.

He received 10 pence a day for the 1549 revels, while the other tailors received 7 pence; and, by 1550, he was listed as “John Holt, yeoman, Cutter at 2 shillings the day and 2 shillings the night”, with his dieting charges no longer mentioned. He continued to pay for all manner of things out of his own pocket during preparation of a revel: He paid to hire an Irish Bagpiper for one, and for making a dragon with seven heads for another.


The Mystery of the Tronoy Needles

or “What happens when you take the blue research pill and find out just how far the rabbithole goes.”

tronoyneedlesIn transcribing Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Accounts (I’m currently up to 1592…10 years to go!), I come across obscure terms that went out of common usage centuries ago. Some of these mystery words are fairly easy to discover. I have my go-to books for identifying Pewke, Pampilion, Peropus, Philoselle, or Paragon: Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d is first, given that it covers the same types of documents that I’m working on, and I usually have some success with it, or with the books referenced by it in footnotes.

If I have no luck, my next stop is usually the section on Fabrics in Costume in the Drama of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries and Stuart Press’s Textiles of the Common Man and Woman.

If I still come up empty, my next stop to roll up my sleeves and do a general Google Books search of the term. Progresses and Processions of Queen Elizabeth is now online and searchable there, as are Documents Pertaining to the Revels in the Time of Queen Elizabeth and several other obscure books on 16th century documents.

Using the odd spellings in the original manuscripts, combined with restricting Google Books search results to the 19th century, can turn up some real gems; Google Books has made once-obscure Victorian Journals like Archaeologia Cambrensis, Journal of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society and The Gentleman’s Magazine not only available, but searchable. The Victorians loved their historical documents, and loved to transcribe bits of old manuscripts and make them available to “modern” readers, sandwiched between interminable geneaological expositions and careful drawings of rural priory ruins.

Google Books is also good at introducing me to obscure books I’d never have thought to look at for sources; The Walloons and their Church, for example, is hands-down the best source on varieties and names of late 16th and early 17th New Draperies made in Norwich available.

If even Google comes up dry, I then search post-period sources for fabric names and try to trace them back from there.Textiles in America 1650-1870 is a good source, as are 1700 Tals-Textil and A Lady of Fashion: Barbara Johnson’s Album of Styles and Fabrics, two facimiles of 18th century manuscripts containing swatches of fabric and descriptions of them.

Sometimes, however, I come across a term which is obstinately, obdurately opaque. Like…

Tronoy Needles.  (more…)

Apparelling Orphan Heiresses

The Tasburgh Group, English schoolSay that ten times fast…

I have uploaded two more accounts:

Account Extracts for the Farmor Children

which contain clothing purchases made for Children Mary and Richard by their father’s Executor after his death; and

Clothing Extracts from the Sandwich Book of Orphans

Recording expenditures made by wardens for the orphans under their care.

The children in the Farmor account were fairly well off; they had clothing of taffeta as well as wool. Mary Farmor, for instance, received the following clothing in 1581:

a pair of shoes
a pair of knit hose
a petticoat of mockado, decorated with parchment lace, murrey sarcenet and fastened with hooks and eyes
a gown with yellow taffeta sleeves
another workaday gown of mockado
sleeves, partlets and coifs of holland
three cauls, two of silver and gilt, as well as a shadow

The other years are sparser in clothing references, but a couple of items caught my eye: Young Richard, at age 8, was given “a string to his myttens”, which immediately brought to mind images of my youth, with my mittens run on a string up one sleeve and down the other so that they wouldn’t get lost. He was also given wooden-soled pattens. I can just see an eight-year-old boy clattering down the halls of his house in them, making an unholy racket, scolded by the cook for wearing them inside.

Richard also had a doublet and venetians of popinjay green taffeta and yellow sarcenet made for him in 1586, when he was 11 years old. How adorable is that? He also received a shooting glove that year–for archery? This entry made me envision Richard’s first day at the archery butt, proudly and self-consciously wearing his new glove as he worked to pull a bow back and land an arrow in the target.

The most interesting orphan in the Sandwich Book of Orphans is Thomasine Walters, an heiress in a small way with an income of 10 £ a year in rentals. She lodged with a couple of people as well as going to a boarding school in Canterbury, and the account sheds some light on her wardrobe and other textile-related activities.

In 1591 she had a gown of 2 yards of violet broadcloth made for her, interlined and lined with 2 yards of bays and a yard of cotton, for her to wear at boarding school in Canturbury.

In 1592 she had a waistcoat made for her out of 7/8 of a yard of Devonshire Kersey, and a petticoate of one and a half yards of stamell cloth made for her as well. The next year she had another waistcoat of Devonshire Kersey made, this one of 1 1/4 yards; one can imagine she had grown quite a bit that year.

in 1593 she had another gown, more elaborate, made for her out of 10 yards of “lyle grosgrain”. The gown was stiffened with buckram and bent, lined with bays and had a pair of whalebone-stiffened sleeves. It was decorated with tawny bobbin lace. A petticoat of peach-colored broadcloth was made for her as well, bound with 3 yards of lace, decorated with 6 1/4 yards of black and red billiment lace (two rows of trim around the bottom?) and with statute fringe. Her smocks this year were, interestingly, made of buckram; a coarser cloth than one would expect with a gown and petticoat of this quality. However, in the same year that the gown was made, there’s a mention that she married a man named Harker; perhaps the gown and petticoat were for the wedding.

The account also illuminates Thomasine’s experience with needlework. Yarn is purchased for her on several occasions so that she might knit stockings. A sampler is also bought for her, as well as several purchases of “sylke”–presumably embroidery floss, given the cheap price. She is given two shillings to buy some silk to work a coif, and a “seame of French worke for a koyf” is bought at near the same time. in 1593, she also purchases “a cushen to make lace uppon” AND “36 stickes to make lace”. Possibly the ” fine Wight thrid to woork withall” that she purchased was intended for the same purpose.

There’s another tidbit of information in Thomasine’s accounts that interested me: one of her renters was a tailor of modest means, a dutchman named John Martin. The book records income for her renters, and I was able to discovered that Martin paid 20 shillings a year for rental of his house. Useful information in my ongoing quest to find out just how much an average tailor made in profit a year.

Clothing the Elizabethan Poor

A beggar woman, symbolizing poverty. Trevilian Miscellaney, 1602

A beggar woman, symbolizing poverty. Trevilian Miscellaney, 1602

There’s not much available on what the penniless wore in the 16th century. They had hardly anything of value and rarely showed up in pictures of any kind.

Fortunately, there are some sources available. I’ve just put one of them online:

Excerpts from the account books of the Tooley Foundation: Poor Relief in Ipswitch, 1580s-1590s

Ipswitch was lucky to have a generous and civic minded merchant, Henry Tooley, donate his substantial estate to helping the poor of the town when he died. The Tooley foundation maintained hospitals and poorhouses, worked to employ the poor, housed, fed and clothed those with nowhere else to go, and–most admirably of all–kept precisely detailed accounts of what they spent all of their money on.

The records date from the 1580s and 1590s. A variety of clothing items were bought and made for men, women and children at the various houses and hospitals.

Peasants harvesting grain. Trevilian Miscellaney, 1602

Peasants harvesting grain. Trevilian Miscellaney, 1602

Women received the following items, paid for by the Tooley foundation: petticoats, waistcoats, frocks (aka gowns), smocks, shoes, knit hose, aprons, coifs, kerchiefs,leather shoes and neckerchiefs. Men received shirts, doublets and hose, jerkins, ruff bands, knit hose, long coats and leather shoes.

A woman would receive either a “peticote and a wastcote” or “one frocke”, but not both; and for the men, they almost always received “one jerkine and i payre of bryches”, or “one cote”, with doublets mentioned only once. Which raises the interesting possibility that, in this case, a jerkin was either a) a synonym for doublet, or b) worn directly over the shirt.

The fabrics used for these items were cheap and practical. (more…)

The Tailoring Test

Sometimes, when one is overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff to learn about a topic, it helps to make an outline of the knowledge you want to tackle.

To make it more interesting, I framed my outline like a test. Or series of tests, really.

The first section: What would I know if I was an actual tailor’s apprentice of the 16th century. The second section: What would a journeyman know? And finally, what would a master tailor know?

It’s really helped me learn a lot. It’s also caused me to branch out into totally unexpected areas, like economics and social history and agriculture, while hunting down answers to particular questions.

Here it is:

Orme’s Tailor’s Bills

Today’s contribution to the Research Singularity:

Read Mr. Orme’s Bills from Tailors, Haberdashers and Other Merchants

I found this collection of bills at the Public Records office. They were a bunch of loose-leaved single and double sheets of paper in a porfolio. Some looked like they’d been written yesterday; others were waterstained, torn, burned on the edges, or had holes eaten into the paper. Some were written in beautiful, flowing secretary; others appeared to be written by Dr, Jekyll’s alter ego.

It got me thinking about what a miracle it is that these things survive. (more…)